We have a data problem in golf. Let’s fix it.

Posted By on Apr 10, 2016 | 11 comments

The hotel industry seems to live and die by the exalted STAR Report, which provides a local property with Occupancy, Average Daily Rate (ADR), and Revenue per Available Room (RevPAR) against a comparable set of properties in the market. The golf industry has no equal, and we need one.

For years, PerformanceTrak by the PGA, in cooperation with NGCOA, reported national, regional and market-level rounds information, as well as some limited reporting of revenue performance. The PGA recently announced they are no longer supporting the program. They approved a baton-passing to GolfDatatech, which has been collecting national rounds data since 1999. NGCOA and GDT were partners in this effort a long time ago, and we’re happy to help GDT continue the ever-important effort to report on our industry’s most basic performance metric. So, please go to http://www.golfdatatech.com/course-search/ and enter your monthly rounds when you hear the call for data submission. Can you imagine if the Wall Street Journal called to ask how many rounds of golf were played in the first quarter of 2016, and we could only shrug our shoulders and look lost?

One of the challenges with PerformanceTrak was the requirement by course staffers to hand-enter monthly data, which will continue with GDT. But here’s the thing…it’s 2016, people! We need you to participate, but we shouldn’t have to ask you to hand-enter information. Why can’t we identify all the tee time systems, which should naturally have data on rounds played, and have them all fed into one, central repository? Out of this neutral repository, we could produce robust rounds played data or feed such information to those who wanted to build robust reporting. This way, it would be more scientifically sound.

Getting these tee time system operators into one room to agree on how this should work needs to happen first. And if we accomplish this, the course operator will have to give permission to share data, which would remain anonymous. Better still, it would make the process much less time-consuming. Isn’t letting your tee time system know once that “you’re in,” versus entering data 12 times per year, a better scenario for everyone?

From where I sit, I observe multiple efforts in our industry to gather and/or report performance data in one form or another, from rounds to revenue and expenses: NGCOA, NGF, GolfDatatech, Pellucid, Club Benchmarking, Links Insight and the ORCA Report, to name a few. Either one of these has to break out from the pack and become the STAR Report, or we have to find a way to work together. The inconvenient thing about data projects like this is the value and insights that result from them are directly proportionate to the quantity and quality of the data entered. We fair no better in golf if we have multiple, competing efforts.

This is my first smoke signal to the industry. If you run a tee time system or are in the data business in golf, expect to hear from NGCOA. We can and must do better.

What do you think?


  1. Well said Jay. Interesting that we all play golf and like to keep our scores, talk about our game afterwards and post them later. We share our handicaps so quickly at a dinner party because it brings context to the conversation. However, in the industry that we all live and work in everyday of our life we don’t discuss par, we hide our score unless it can be provided anonymously and we never talk about “real” numbers, just “I played okay.” The technology is available. The data is accessible. The metrics exist. What remains is who is going to push to make it happen? Thank you Jay for getting behind this first. Hard to start a movement unless someone moves first. Count me in. One good thing…once the car starts rolling it gets easier to push. 🙂

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  2. On It Jay. #powerinnumbers. http://www.orcareport.com

    Calling for it from the mountain top is nice but it will take getting dirty, course by course to make it happen. I’ve done it before and we’re doing it again.

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  3. Very articulate and cogent article written by Jay Karen. Congratulations on taking a leadership role on this vital issue.

    Unfortunately, I fear many hurdles will preclude the implementation of meaningful national solutions in the short term for the follow reasons:

    1. It is necessary to export data from various vendors POS systems to the central database repository. Resistance from firms, i.e., Club Prophet, EZ Links (PGA TOUR), GolfNow, etc. is to be anticipated.
    2. The cost of barter will be exposed meeting with protest from third party distribution companies.
    3. There is a natural skepticism amongst golf course owners to pool data for the collective benefit of the group.
    4. Management companies whose influence is growing in the industry may be reluctant to adopt this service for these reports will reflect the effectiveness of their rate management programs and the rebates they may be receiving from the barter companies.

    Though we wish you success with this endeavor, what should be obvious and implemented will meet with resistance masked with justifications that superficially appears to have merit but in substance have none.

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  4. Jay, we couldn’t agree more. What a breath of fresh air to hear someone in your position talk about the things that are going to help get this industry out of the funk that we’ve been in for the last 15 years. Please sign us up to participate when you decide to gather Tee Time vendors to design this system! Mr. Keegan also makes a good point in his comment that most vendors are not going to want to participate. If true, everyone should also ask themselves where their current POS/Tee Sheet vendor stands? If their vendor is not willing to cooperate for the greater good because it doesn’t further their own agenda, maybe it’s time to look for a different vendor? Does anyone think the airline or hotel industry would allow one or two vendors to control, manipulate, and bully a market as much as the golf industry does?

    Understanding rounds, revenue, utilization rates, RevPATT, ADR and how you stack up again your peers is a great first start. We also believe that in order to really stop the bleeding, we need to create Regional Booking Sites that are actually owned by the regional courses that are participating in them. Then give them full control the pricing, messages, and ultimately their own brand!

    Until we put the power back into the golf courses hands history will just continue to repeat itself and the funk will continue…


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    • Kris, get in touch with us at ORCA and we will provide our file format so you can build a simple export allowing your customers to easily submit data to ORCA. We’ve done it with a few other vendors (including ones mentioned in this post already.

      I think any stakeholder in our sector of the golf industry shouldn’t be averse to more transparency. It will make all better operators. The dissemination of information is imperfect, meaning if there is a lag in whom knows what when, then the person with the information first has an advantage. ORCA helps golf course owners by putting the data (whether it’s about barter or comp set performance) in their hands quicker than ever before. Giving owners this information simultaneously and routinely will help them optimize revenue even as they battle the troubling macro-economic factors challenging the industry as a whole.

      It’d be great to hear the viewpoint of a golf course owner in this posting…


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  5. Be careful what you wish for.

    Last year at one of the owner’s meetings, we heard a presentation from Mark Lommano, one of the founders of Smith Travel, which produces the STR report. His presentation was fantastic, but one of the most interesting points was that when he started the report, he thought it would help individual operators to determine when they needed to up their game by providing information on competitors, and it would pull the bottom performers up. Instead, the opposite happened, where the low performers simply dropped their rates in order to increase occupancy and it pulled down the people at the top. That, along with online booking, nearly destroyed the hotel industry. Just as price transparency through online booking engines is placing downward pressure on our golf rates, the same could happen with rounds transparency.

    I think some of you have it backwards – opacity benefits consumers, not businesses. While it sounds good and democratic, think about those industries where demand and pricing is impossible to understand (hospitals) and those where everything has been thrust into the open (taxis vs. Uber). I know which one I’d like to be invested in.

    Yes, having your competitor’s data would help you, but remember that your competitor is going to use your data against you as well, and it probably won’t be to raise rates. It will be to selectively reduce rates in day/times where he is losing market share to you. Multiply that times every day, every month, and every time slot and you can see how the market can drop.

    That said, I don’t think Jay is lobbying for an exact duplicate of the STR report and I hope he is not. I also agree with the need for high level rounds data. However, the detail in the STR report is dangerous and blindly providing data without understanding exactly how it is going to be used is unwise.

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    • Where I said Opacity, I should have said Transparency. Darn Monday mornings.

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    • Very good commentary, Scott. I’d love to hear what others think of that caveat. I’ll definitely be using it in my ongoing analysis of what the industry needs.

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    • From my perspective the caveat is this, the lodging industry overcame it, the golf industry will have to do the same. If I understand the STAR history correctly, the product was introduced almost 30 years ago. At that time RM was barely introduced to the airline industry. Over time, the collective ‘intelligence’ in the lodging industry with respect to pricing and channel management has become more more sophisticated. Based on the wide adoption of STAR I’m guessing that STAR has made that happen. Golf will have to find something that does the same thing.


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    • Mr. Busch, very lucid and candid thoughts…..I agree with several of your contentions, Ceilings topple far more often than floors rise (as a rule). And yet, I also appreciate Mr. Darius Hatamai textbook-esque macro analysis of investment strategies.

      But in the long run, I defer to the greatest business model (and survival strategy) of them all: All business is people business. Recessions (even severe ones) come and go. So until we all rue the day when robots cut greens, give golf lessons, marshal courses, and look customers dead in the eye and say “thanks for coming to our course today, really.” I will continue to argue that owners and operators and their staffs need to spend more time studying, engaging with, and listening to their customers.

      It would be nice to have a dollar for every time a member of my management team “investigated” the competition’s green fees, coffee shop menu prices, or golf shop inventories in order to “compete” with area prices….only to get complaints & criticisms from their most loyal customer base.

      Etched in my mind are the words of an owner whose course I am employed, when in 2009 he insisted at a board meeting that “we will not undervalue our course with discounted rates!” Since then we have delved into players cards, monthly passes, 2-for1s, Costco Cards, Golfnow, a separate marketing company, Veteran’s Month, Law Enforcement Month, three legged one-eyed monster month, ….everything from soup to nuts.

      In the end, I have not heard one word uttered at a CGCOA, SCGA or CGCSA meeting, or other industry gathering about the blunt hard granite truth: THESE ARE TROUBLING ECONOMIC TIMES…….but we are now lead to believe that the prophets have carved a new tablet on the mountain: such as ORCA Report & Links Insight….Mmmmmm.

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  6. Its about time that the golf industry realizes that data sharing is critical for the future of the industry. It is no coincidence that the growth in the game in the 1990’s coincided with the growth in the capital sources that funded golf course developments and acquisitions. Today, the finance industry has mostly vacated the space, as there is insufficient financial and performance data available for lenders to accurately predict the future performance of the golf courses. The lack of capital in the market is a significant detriment to all golf industry participants.

    Every other real estate land use provides accurate metrics that establish the status of their industry, including the hotel equivalents of occupancy and rate. The presence of this information allows for industry participants to more accurately predict future trends, make better decisions about investment, and understand the financial risk involved in the industry, the market, and the asset, Owners and operators need this data to make better pricing and investment business decisions. Lenders need this data to provide more certainty in terms of the financial projections, and to effectively provide additional sources of capital to the industry.

    While we realize that there are significant challenges for the industry in just attaining accurate rounds and revenue data, and that gathering this data would be a significant step, there are additional data concerns that industry leaders need to address in the longer term. These include:

    1. The segmentation of golf rounds to understand how much business is generated from tournaments, leagues and events, members, guests of members, and daily fee players, This would provide some understanding as to the magnitude of the market, and which segments are growing and which are contracting.
    2. Data by day of the week, and seasonality.
    3. The tracking of memberships, which is becoming a more important factor in golf facility performance.
    4. A uniform system of accounts for golf courses, that includes, methods for accounting rounds data, member data, and golf course financial statements. It exists for clubs, although not widely adopted, but does not exist for golf courses.

    I think it is apparent that the golf consumers, as well as the third party tee time providers have more information about what is happening in the market than many of the course owners, especially independents. Many course owners are currently at a disadvantage, as they have no knowledge of the impacts that their pricing decisions have in the greater market. Does discounted pricing actually lead to a gain in overall market share, growth in the number of rounds in the market, or is the net impact only predatory capture from other courses? The operators need the data to grow the market, and to innovate.

    I agree the the opinion that its time for the golf industry to enter the 21st century and realize that data sharing is good for the owners, operators, lenders, and ultimately good for the game,

    Darius Hatami, MAI
    Managing Director,
    HVS Golf Services

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